In the first half-hour of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, director Mike Newell strains to inject magic and whimsy before doom and gloom arrive to stay. The resulting, ostentatious effect suggests what would happen if Cirque du Soleil set up shop in Hogwarts, but once the plot of the 157-minute film kicks in, the unstoppable Potter franchise proves to be in passable shape. If Newell's direction lacks distinction and coherence, Rowling's world is still ornate and bizarre enough to hold attention.
This fourth entry in the series finds new-to-Potter Newell (Mona Lisa Smile) subsuming himself to the Rowling-friendly non-style of Chris Columbus; after Alfonso Cuarón's superior third chapter (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Newell's lack of daring is nearly deadly. The familiarly busy plot observes the darkening trend of the series' themes, with rifts between friends and convincingly mortal threats as Harry represents Hogwarts School in a mysteriously rigged TriWizard Tournament.
The now-teenage Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) intriguingly faces the spectre of broader unpopularity, and why not (shouldn't at least as many people be jealous of the boy wonder as awestruck by him)? As many in Hogwarts shun him, Harry must also gird his loins for the possibility of romantic rejection--the dreaded, "well-mannered frivolity" of the Yule Ball means Harry and best buds Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) must all score dance-worthy dates. Surprisingly, and despite Newell's tepid treatment, these concerns generate more drama and interest than the ostensibly thrilling mystery of who's after Harry this time (could it beeee...Voldemort?).
As always, the roster of Brit talent impresses, with Brendan Gleeson, Miranda Richardson, and Ralph Fiennes the latest to queue up. With equal parts humor and menace, Gleeson embodies one-legged, one-eyed Alastair Moody, the latest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher (the actor's growly lack of restraint befits the story's inherent cruelty). Back in the crowded bullpen are Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Isaacs, Alan Rickman, and Timothy Spall (my faves: Robert Hardy and Gary Oldman, the latter squandered in a CGI cameo). The new characters among the students make uninspired but adequate placeholders.
Regular screenwriter Steve Kloves fails to clarify why teachers would sanction so sadistic a competition as the TriWizard Tournament, and he equivocates as to the mortality of the threats the teens face. The story's lurching movement owes to editing given more to hustling expediency than natural flow (the film's opening "Quidditch World Cup" scene, for example, feels sadly perfunctory and flat), but the three memorable thrill-spill events of the Tournament goose the film along to its mythological showdown between Harry and He Who Must Not Be Named.
A student notes of a flying carriage, "There's something you don't see everyday!", but Newell's film—unlike its predecessors—fails to generate fresh wonder. Fans will drool, but "muggles" (a.k.a. the uninitiated) will find nothing to challenge their assumption that Harry Potter is not for them; the Potter-nal narrative labyrinth has never been less inviting. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may be the weakest entry to date, but on balance Rowling's creative opus—roiling with hormonal consequences and eye-popping effects—continues to earn its crowds.
Warner's Ultimate Edition of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire comes in a deluxe package to match those for Years 1-3. A durable box with a magnetic clasp contains the three discs (two Blu-rays and a DVD), two collector's cards and a lavishly illustrated forty-eight-page hardcover book on the set's theme of . Sprucing up Years 3 and 4 are lenticular cards slotted into the covers. The hi-def transfer hailing from 2007 holds up well, delivering a film-like image that accurately recreates the film's color and textures; like Azkaban's transfer, this one has well-defined contrast and, as a rule, a deep black level; it's not a flawless image (a few artifacts creep in here and there, mostly in some background crush), but the detail here puts standard-def DVD to shame. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix recreates for home theaters the film's theatrical soundscape; as usual for Potter, the effects thrill the ear in their power and immersive effect, dialogue is pin-sharp, and the score comes through with robust clarity.
Goblet of Fire sports an In-Movie Experience Picture-in-Picture track hosted by actors James and Oliver Phelps. Despite some notable gaps, the track informs and entertains with cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, visual effects footage and scene-specific analysis.
The big draw here no doubt is "Creating the World of Harry Potter Part 4: Sound & Music" (54:12, HD), the latest installment of the ongoing documentary series addressing all aspects of the film franchise. This one delves into sound effects work, sound mixing, and scoring, with extensive interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
"Conversations with the Cast" (30:36, HD): finds writer/director Richard Curtis chatting up actors Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint.
TV promos collected here include "Behind the Magic" (48:51, SD), "Inside Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" (43:48, SD), "The Adventure Continues" (24:12, SD), "Some Animal Magic" (23:25, SD) and "Dark Matters, New Masters" (13:02, SD).
Eight "Deleted Scenes" (9:57, HD) appear in hi-def.
Next up are two "Theatrical Trailers" (3:33, HD), and trailers for iPod app "Harry Potter: Spells" (:45, SD), "Harry Potter: A Pop-Up Book" (1:49, HD) and the book "Harry Potter: Film Wizardry"(2:31, HD).
Collected on Disc Three are the Original DVD Special Features, including the seven featurettes "Harry vs. the Horntail: The First Task" (6:08, SD), "In Too Deep: The Second Task" (9:48, SD), "The Maze: The Third Task" (6:48, SD), "Meet the Champions" (13:03, SD), "He Who Must Not Be Named" (11:09, SD), "Preparing For the Yule Ball" (9:04, SD) and "Reflections on the Fourth Film" (14:13, SD) and the games Triwizard Tournament: Dragon Challenge, Triwizard Tournament: The Lake Challenge, Triwizard Tournament: The Maze Challenge and Tri-Wizard Tournament: To the Graveyard and Back Challenge.
This is the definitive presentation to date for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, with a complete collection of bonus features and terrific hi-def A/V presentation.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer